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Title: Undead  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
Language: English
Subject: List of legendary creatures by type, Necromancy, Vampire, Skeleton (undead), Paladin (character class)
Collection: Supernatural Legends, Undead
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia


The ghost of Barbara Radziwiłł by Wojciech Gerson: ghosts are a common form of the undead in folklore

An undead is a being in mythology, legend or fiction that is deceased yet behaves as if alive. A common example is a corpse re-animated by supernatural forces by the application of the deceased's own life force or that of another being (such as a demon). Undead may be incorporeal like ghosts, or corporeal like vampires and zombies. The undead are featured in the belief systems of most cultures, and appear in many works of fantasy and horror fiction.

Bram Stoker considered using the title The Un-Dead for his novel Dracula (1897), and use of the term in the novel is mostly responsible for the modern sense of the word. The word does appear in English before Stoker but with the more literal sense of "alive" or "not dead", for which citations can be found in the Oxford English Dictionary. Stoker's use of the term refers only to vampires, and the extension to other types of supernatural beings arose later. Most commonly, it is now taken to refer to supernatural beings which had at one time been alive and continue to display some aspects of life after death, but the usage is highly variable.[1]


  • Literature 1
  • Forms of undead 2
    • Living corpses 2.1
    • Incorporeal spirits 2.2
  • Games 3
  • See also 4
  • References 5


The dead lovers, ca. 1470

The Valley of the Dry Bones, Ezekiel 37:1-14, may be the origin of the undead in literature.

"1. And the hand of YHVH was upon me, and YHVH brought me out by wind and set me down in the valley, and it was filled with bones... 7. ...And there was a voice.. and behold, earthquake, and the bones joined, bone to its bone. 8. And I saw, and behold, sinew upon them, and flesh rose, and skin covered over them, but there was no wind in them... 10. ... And the wind came into them and they lived, and they stood upon their legs, a very great horde."

Frankenstein by Mary Shelley is a seminal text in 19th century discourse about the undead. Published in 1818, it was based on a number of sources, including Ovid's myth of Prometheus (indeed, the novel is subtitled "The Modern Prometheus"), Milton's Paradise Lost, Coleridge's The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, and William Beckford's Gothic novel Vathek. Shelley also drew on European folklore,[2] such as the medieval Jewish legend of the golem, and German, Czech and Moravian ghost stories featuring vengeful dead (many of whom have characteristics of vampires rather than zombies).

Later notable 19th century stories about the avenging undead included Ambrose Bierce's The Death of Halpin Frayser,[3] and various Gothic Romanticism tales by Edgar Allan Poe. Though their works could not be properly considered zombie fiction, the supernatural tales of Bierce and Poe would prove influential on later writers such as H. P. Lovecraft, by Lovecraft's own admission.[4]

Utagawa Yoshiiku, "Specter frightening a young woman"

In the Harry Potter series Lord Voldemort uses reanimated dead bodies that are placed under his control by his dark magic powers as his guardians. They are known as Inferi.

Forms of undead

Living corpses

Incorporeal spirits


In Dungeons & Dragons and similar systems, clerics can attempt to "turn" undead by invoking their patron deities or channeling "positive energy" (other-dimensional life energy, which animates and heals living creatures, and is the antithesis of negative energy, which animates and heals undead creatures). This forces the undead creature away from the cleric; powerful clerics are capable of completely destroying weaker undead creatures with this ability. Although the act of turning away the undead relies primarily on power of faith, a holy symbol is usually required as a focus for the divine power being invoked. Clerics of evil gods can rebuke and control the undead in a similar fashion, by instead channeling "negative energy".[5]

In other games, such as Final Fantasy, undead can be damaged by using magical effects that heal normal living beings.[6]

See also


  1. ^ "Can Such Things Be". Retrieved 2012-07-31. 
  2. ^ Warner, Marina. A forgotten gem: Das Gespensterbuch ('The Book of Ghosts'), An Introduction book review
  3. ^ "Can Such Things Be". Retrieved 2012-07-31. 
  4. ^ "SUPERNATURAL HORROR IN LITERATURE (1927, 1933 - 1935) by H.P. Lovecraft". 1988-01-01. Retrieved 2012-07-31. 
  5. ^ "Special Attacks: Turn Or Rebuke Undead". Retrieved 2006-05-11. 
  6. ^ "Spells: Cure Light Wounds". Retrieved 2006-05-21. 
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